Published: 03/01/2018 07:00 - Updated: 03/01/2018 09:28

Cash-strapped council under fire for cost of computers

Written byDonna MacAllister

Highland Council has forked out more than £1700 apiece for new tablet computers for members – which were available in Argos for £799.

Lightweight laptops on sale online for £815 have also been handed out to councillors, but the local authority spent £1400 on each machine.

The council insisted it had to pay the higher prices because the package included testing, delivery and engineer support.

Several computer experts approached by the Inverness Courier were surprised by the scale of add-on costs.

And Inverness MP Drew Hendry, a proponent of new technology who has owned a technology company, called for openness surrounding the council’s purchases.

He said: "It’s always important that there’s transparency in the use of public funds."

Independent councillor Ken Gowans condemned the scale of money spent, saying the council had forked out "well over the odds".

Lib Dem councillor Carolyn Caddick said some of her colleagues were baffled by the new technology and had given up on it, relying instead on print-outs.

The member of the council’s administration added some of the extra costs would come down to additional work needed to install vital security features to protect confidential information held about the public, but said it was still difficult to justify the higher cost.

New computers were bought in last year when the council refreshed about half of the members’ consoles.

It was part of the council’s new information and communications technology contract with Wipro, which the council has promised will help save the authority £18 million over a seven-year period.

A breakdown of costs requested by the Inverness Courier revealed costs of £1742 a piece for 23 Surface Pro Tablet computers and £1334.23 a piece for 30 Fujitsu U745 laptops.

No council IT official was available to give a more detailed breakdown of the costs.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the council said: "The costs quoted cover the purchase of the hardware and the engineer time to build, test and deliver the devices to the elected members.

"There was also work involved in collecting and securely recycling the old devices that were being replaced."

She said the "actual cost of the hardware" was £932 for the laptop and £878 for the tablet.

Cllr Caddick said it was a good move to reduce the amount of paper being used but added she was "amazed" at the high cost involved, particularly regarding the laptops, saying she bought her last one for just over £500.

She suspected, however, that the added costs may, in part, come down to enhanced security features.

She said: "It’s not like the council officers can just walk into Currys and buy one off the shelf because it wouldn’t have all the features that we need for protecting the public’s information.

"But I do think they over-engineer them a bit."

Conservative councillor Andrew Jarvie considered the security software on the councillors’ IT kit "complete overkill".

He said: "It’s outrageous. No MSP or MP has got the amount of security that we get.

"I went to the company which has created this silly little app for us, which basically spits out a different code every 30 seconds just so we can connect to the internet, and I asked them for a quote for a 74-year licence and they came back and said it was £44,000 per year."

Cllr Jarvie said he was plotting the app’s demise.

"We are starting our budget negotiations soon and that’s at the top of my list of things to get rid of. It’s useless and we’re being charged an absolute fortune for it."

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